Reading: Discussing Death with Death Row Inmates by Liao Yiwu

Liao Yiwu (b. 1958) is a Chinese poet and critic of the Communist regime, for which he has been imprisoned after he wrote a poem about the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. I read one of his poems today, on his 60th birthday.

Discussing Death with Death Row Inmates
Each night of stars is a night of stars. No.
No? Each night of stars is a skull full of bullet holes.
We argue death inside brains.
We argue death under a fluorescent light
of hours.
What are hours? Shall we kneel down or stand
in the hours?
Will the bullet shoot through our chest or the back of our brains?
How is the executioner’s skill? How is his aim?
Which direction will our
brains splash? the moment the soul goes out is

When the body falls into a hole, with its white ass to the sun, and
the body falls into the hole
will the legs stick out, erect, high, like flagpoles?

The iron chains crash into waves of River Styx

On the eve of the shooting
doctor will pump
away 1/2 of the blood from the arm
of a man.
A man will hear the sensation of comfort
as if floating
A man’s heartbeat slows down like a basketball game in the air
the dog-eating dog, larger than Saturn
barking over Saturn.

What are you waiting for, fools?
Go while it’s so comfortable, boys!
You are done, earth.
The earth should sign a will and testament
of the dying people
This bastard is called God
The bastard is called God
is licking us with such a big tongue of Time

The tongue that licks the arms and legs of men
Those born from
the mouth are without emotion
And we, born from the vagina
understand what pain is.
What is pain?
Even the bad guys have mothers.

Death is a white flag
a white flag is a light
a light is in a long tunnel
What is a tunnel?
It is a lovely
train, like a penis
ejecting a bullet in climax.
It will be very uncomfortable if it misses the vital part.

It will be very uncomfortable. The anal is now speaking.
It’s still a virgin.
Not fucked by the God yet.

A powerful poem from a man who has been imprisoned and tortured himself. The questions sound dry in the opening stanza, but soon become gripping. The white ass up and the legs that stick out like flagpoles speak to my imagination.

Later, the poem turns surrealistic. I like the imagine of the slow-motion basketball game and the dogs barking at Saturn and god the bastard licking us with the big tongue of Time (this could have been written by a westerner).

What does Liao mean when he writes that those born from the mouth have no emotions, but we are born from the Vagina (and so are the bad guys, they have mothers too). It is puzzling but at the same time clear to me that the author is talking about empathy.

The climax of the poem is wonderfully tough and sounds like a deranged beat poet (Liao has indeed read Ginsburg). Death is God anally deflowering us – a process you better get over with very quickly, or it can get ‘very uncomfortable’.

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